Wash your hands. Cover your mouth. Sneeze into your crooked elbow instead of on your neighbor. Just a few of the recommendations that local schools are making to students in light of a swine flu pandemic sweeping the globe.
Federal officials declared a health emergency on Sunday, warning that the new variant of disease – a combination of pig, bird and human viruses that humans have no natural immunity to, will most likely spread.
A pandemic differs from an epidemic because of the number of people involved and the speed by which the illness spreads. In Mexico, where the outbreak originated, 149 deaths are being blamed on the swine flu and schools throughout the country are closed until at least May 6. More than 800 people in Mexico are hospitalized with flu-like symptoms and cases have been confirmed as far away as Spain and Scotland.
A group of students from New York’s St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens make up the largest related group of affected patients – 28 confirmed cases and 100 more students hospitalized with syptoms – in the United States. Seven cases have also been confirmed in San Diego and Imperial County in California; with 2 cases in Kansas, 1 case in Ohio and 2 cases in Texas.
Although no cases of swine flu have been reported in Los Angeles County, local school districts are taking precautionary measures to keep students in good health.
According to Associated Press, public health officials are working with the state to investigate two clusters of patients with influenza-like symptoms in Santa Clarita. Results of the tests are expected later this week.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to allay any fears of Californians during a press conference Monday.
“My thoughts and my prayers, of course, remain with those that have been infected. Fortunately, all of the U.S. cases have been mild and moderate in severity and everyone has recovered so far,” he said. “There have been seven confirmed cases in California, four in San Diego County and three in Imperial County and there have been 40 cases identified in the United States.
”And of course the situation in Mexico is much more severe,” he continued. “As we have heard, there are over 1,000 cases and there are over 100 deaths. The outbreak is a call to action and communication and cooperation on every level. I got daily briefings in these last few days, sometimes twice a day and I also got briefings from Janet Napolitano from Homeland Security from Washington.”
Pat Willett, spokeswoman for the William S. Hart High School District, said that the district is being proactive, but is also ready in case an outbreak occurs.
“We’re reminding students of general precautions, such as hand washing with soap and water; reminding them to stay home if they are sick and if you have to sneeze or cough, do it on the inside of your elbow and not on your hands,” she said.
She said there has not been a higher incidence of absence yet, but added that parents will be receiving bulletins via the Connect Ed system.
In the Newhall School District, administrators have sent their Connect Ed message, reinforcing recommendations made by public health officials.
“We make sure kids wash their hands after they sneeze and before meals and we’ve been cleaning up rooms,” said District Nurse Sandi Gault. “We’re also doing more surveillance of sick children or those who appear like they might be getting sick.
Saugus Assistant Superintendent Joan Lucid said that information distribution and reinforcement has been their focus.
“We’re putting out precautionary messages,” she said. “We’re trying to provide people with more information. We don’t want to panic people, we’d rather err on the side of caution.”
Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County Director of Public Health, offered this information:
“We do not suggest any changes in what you would normally do to avoid either getting sick yourself or passing illness to others: if you are sick, stay home; if your child is sick, do not send him or her to school; cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; wash your hands frequently, especially before eating and after using the restroom; and do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands.
”The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is on alert, and we have activated surveillance to identify cases of this strain that may surface in LA County. We are also working with the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on control measures.”